I’m back with another new Christmas release, this time one of mine! Yes, if you hadn’t heard, I decided to mix it up this Christmas and write a contemporary romance! It’s a sexy little story, called The Present, that takes place in Chicago in the present day and takes place over the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. It’s an extension of a flash fiction piece I wrote years ago, called The Present, that I somehow never forgot. So this year, I decided why not find out what happened to Hal and Tess?
The novella is part of a Christmas novella series called Christmas on the Side, and all eight authors of the series are members of my RWA local chapter, Chesapeake Romance Writers. So while you’re checking my Christmas story out, check out theirs as well! We’re all on Amazon, three are already available and the rest of us are on pre-order. My book releases on Tuesday, November 23! Here’s the link if you want to pre-order.
Tessa Avery’s Christmas has gone from bad to worse. Unemployed for six months and reduced to cleaning her heartless sister’s apartment to make ends meet, Tess is at her wits end how to get back on her feet. Then her sister comes up with an offer Tess can’t refuse: tell Janice’s boyfriend Hal she’s breaking it off with him—two days before Christmas—or Janice will withhold Tess’s payment.
Hal Chapman is livid that his supposed girlfriend tells him they’re through—not even in person, but by way of her sister—and is oh so ready to get even. He offers Tessa the present he’d gotten for Janice, a pair of diamond earrings worth enough to make Tessa’s financial problem a lot easier in exchange for a little revenge against his ex-girlfriend.
When their escapade is over, Hal asks Tessa out on a date. Tess is thrilled, but wary—is Hal really interested in her, or just interested in more revenge? As they come to know one another better, Tess begins to hope for a new beginning with Hal. But when a sudden crisis calls for her to make a hard choice, will her ultimate decision sink their budding relationship or turn their night together into the best Christmas present ever?
“Didn’t you hear the doorbell?” her sister shouted, staggering toward the white sofa where she dropped the shopping bags. She stood glaring at Tess while she pulled off her gloves, finger by finger.
“You couldn’t hear a stick of dynamite go off over the racket this thing makes.” Tess kicked at the ancient machine. “If you had a decent one, I would have heard the damn bell.”
“I doubt that.” Janice nodded toward Tess. “You couldn’t hear over the noise blaring out of your ear buds. I seriously doubt you’re listening to Christmas carols.”
“I might be.” The statement was farfetched at best. Tessa hadn’t been in the holiday spirits this year at all. Losing one’s job didn’t really make one festive.
“Yeah, and I’m the Virgin Mary.” Swinging her purse off her shoulder and plopping it down on the table behind the sofa, Janice groaned, then pulled her wet two-inch heels off, letting them fall on the carpet Tessa had just painstakingly cleaned.
Tessa dove down and scooped them up before they could touch her clean carpet. “Is it raining outside?” She scooted to the bathroom and grabbed a fingertip towel to catch the drips from the black patent leather shoes. “I didn’t think they were calling for that.”
“It’s snowing, not raining.” Janice stripped off her white cashmere coat and tossed it on the end of the sofa, then settled down beside her packages. “And no, they hadn’t called for it, despite the fact it’s the end of December. You really should expect this sort of weather two days before Christmas. Can you make me a drink? I could use one. You won’t believe how much money I just spent on presents for the office Christmas party.”
Oh, yes. Tess could easily believe it. “That’s tonight, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Starts about eight. I’ll arrive fashionably late.” Janice leaned back against the white sofa, her dark auburn hair and chic navy-blue suit creating a stark contrast. She smiled.
Oh, hell. Tessa knew that smile. Something terrible was about to go down.
“I plan to have a drink with Kevin Byrne. Drinks plural would be better.” Her sister’s smile widened. “Rumor has it he’s the number one candidate to get the V.P. nod after the merger.”
“I thought you told me Hal was getting that position.” Hal was Janice’s boyfriend of six months. Tess had a lot of sympathy for the man. He must have gotten into the relationship before he knew anything about Janice. Any man smart enough to make V.P. of a major corporation had to have sense enough to run the other way when he saw her sister coming. But Hal was a good guy. It would have been hard for him to break it off with Janice, despite all the truly despicable things she’d done.
“That might have been true last month.” Janice rubbed her feet. “But it’s old news, or so I hear now. Alex, the office manager, told me yesterday that once the merger is over, they plan to make Kevin V.P. in charge of Communications.”
Hence the drinks, plural, with Kevin. Her sister could smell blood in the water better than any shark. “Does Hal know?”
Janice shrugged. “I certainly haven’t told him. He’d already left on that trip to Aspen when I found out.”
Picking up her phone, Tessa waved it in front of Janice’s face. “It’s called a cell phone, Janice. You could have called him. The man deserves to know he’s not getting the promotion.”
Her sister looked away. “I can’t swear he doesn’t know already.” She sat up. “Will you please bring me a drink? Scotch on the rocks.”
“So, I’m your bartender now as well?” Tessa glared at her sister, all the while knowing she’d get the damned drink.
“If the shoe fits.” Janice stretched like contented cat about to settle down for a nap. “It’s been such a stressful day.”
“Yes, shopping can be a bitch sometimes.” Moving toward the bar, Tess grabbed a highball glass and headed for the kitchen.
“Well, it can. I had to think very carefully about what to get for each one of my team members. And Kevin.”
“And thinking was never your strong suit.” Tess mumbled as ice clinked into the glass. “What did you get for Hal?” Silence from the living room drew Tess to stick her head around the corner. “You did get a present for Hal, didn’t you?”
Janice shrugged. “What’s the point? It’s over between us.”
Tess’s mouth dropped open. “What the hell do you mean, it’s over? The man adores you.” She stared at the necklace draped perfectly around her sister’s neck, the pendant sparkling at the top of Janice’s cleavage: a huge one carat diamond sitting in the center of swirled platinum ribbons, each swirl set with small, round diamonds. “That necklace he gave you for your birthday could fund a coup in a small South American country.”
“I won’t say Hal’s not generous. Far from it. But that was never what our relationship was about.” Janice looked at Tess and sniggered. “Poor Tess. You don’t get that our connection was all about position and the power it brings, not about romance.” She shrugged. “If Hal’s no longer on his way to the top, I can’t let that stop me.”
The urge to fling the glass of ice at her sister was so strong Tess had to set the highball down and move away from it. “I don’t believe it. You’re going to tell Hal you’re breaking up with him two days before Christmas?”
The smile her sister turned on her was the evilest thing Tess had ever seen.
“Oh, I’m not going to tell him.” She licked her lips. “You are.”
Come back on Tuesday for the Release Party and another excerpt!
Other Christmas Books by Jenna Jaxon